Senate passes bill to expand WV Racing Commission to five members

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Feb. 8, 2018

A bill that would expand the West Virginia Racing Commission from three to five members and require them to have experience in certain areas breezed through the state Senate Feb. 7.

The legislation, which passed on a 30-0 vote, came two day after the WVRC reversed a decision to not approve the $1.2 million purse for the grade II Charles Town Classic. On Feb. 5 the commission also approved the complete 2018 stakes schedule at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.

The bill, which simply alters language in an existing agriculture statute, states that those appointed to the WVRC “shall be persons who, by reason of previous training and experience, can be classified as capable and experienced in fields of knowledge relevant to racing.”

Three of those fields are tourism, veterinary services, and casino gambling. The other two members of the panel would be individuals with knowledge and experience in Thoroughbred racing and Greyhound racing.

The four tracks in the state—two Thoroughbred and two Greyhound—are home to full-scale casinos, revenue from which goes toward purses and breed development. As for tourism, Gov. Jim Justice has made it a focal point of his administration and believes racing is part of the mix.

Justice in late January issued a statement saying he would ask his staff to work with the WVRC to rescind its decision on the Charles Town Classic purse, which is part of the 8% of purse money that will go to stakes per a contract between the track and horsemen. He followed up with another statement after the Feb. 5 vote.

“This is the best decision to help us continue to promote and highlight Thoroughbred racing in West Virginia,” Justice said.

The governor last year vetoed a bill that would have taken away video lottery terminal funding for Greyhound racing and breeding, effectively decoupling racing from gaming.

The Senate racing commission bill, which now goes to the House of Delegates, states that the governor, upon passage of the legislation, would appoint two new members after consultation with the Senate. The current members would retain their seats on the WVRC provided that “each member of the commission who is reappointed after the effective date of the 2018 amendment must be qualified according to at least one of the five classifications so that each of the five fields of knowledge relevant to racing is represented.”

The bill originated in the Senate Committee on Finance and was reported Jan. 25, two days after two of the three members of the racing commission voted to allow Charles Town to pay out $1.2 million for the Classic only if track owner Penn National Gaming Inc. anted up $600,000 of its own money. It is believed, however, the legislation had been in the works before that given rumblings about a need to expand the commission to at least five members.

(West Virginia statehouse photo courtesy of wvlegislature.gov)